Identifying and treating baby thrush
Few people have ever heard of thrush before they become parents. Oral thrush is a fungal infection of the mouth that most commonly occurs in babies or people with weakened immune systems. Fortunately, it is usually not serious in children, and it is easily treated.
Thrush is characterized by raised white or grayish patches on the tongue or inner cheeks. These may have a "cottage cheese" appearance and may spread to other areas of the mouth and throat if left untreated. Thrush usually comes on suddenly, and in very severe cases may be accompanied by bleeding, painful or difficult swallowing and fever. Be sure to see your family doctor for a proper diagnosis and to make sure that the infection is not due to a more serious underlying problem.
Infant thrush is caused by candida yeast, the same fungus that causes diaper rashes and vaginal yeast infections. These yeast are normally present in small amounts in the mouth and digestive systems, but sometimes they may grow out of control and cause an infection.
The most common factor leading to thrush mouth is the use of antibiotics. These medications can wipe out the beneficial bacteria that usually keep yeast in check, allowing the yeast to flourish. Other medications such as corticosteroids and birth control, as well as conditions such as diabetes or dry mouth, can also upset the balance of microorganisms in the body, leading to thrush.
Infants who overuse pacifiers may be more prone to baby thrush, since this sucking can cause cracking in the mouth, inviting infection. About 5 percent of healthy newborns may acquire yeast infections from their mothers during childbirth. On the other hand, a breastfeeding baby can pass the infection on to the mother, causing mastitis (a breast infection).
If your baby is diagnosed with thrush, your doctor will prescribe an antifungal drug such as fluconazole or nystatin. Thrush treatments for babies come in a liquid form to be taken by mouth, usually for 10 to 14 days. The antifungal medicine must come into contact with the affected areas of the baby's mouth to work, but it does not matter if the baby swallows the medication or not. In fact, your doctor may advise you to apply the medicine directly to the lesions with a cotton swab or sterile gauze.
Be sure to continue with the antifungal treatment for as long as your doctor has indicated, even if the symptoms clear up. Treatment should continue for at least three days after the symptoms disappear to be sure the yeast infection does not come back.